Propaganda is usually thought of as something other nations and governments do – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea to name but a few. Yet the most effective propaganda comes from Hollywood, intricately interlocking with the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex. Writing in Counterpunch magazine, David Swanson observes:
Propaganda is most impactful when people don’t think it’s propaganda, and most decisive when it’s censorship you never knew happened. When we imagine that the U.S. military only occasionally and slightly influences U.S. movies, we are extremely badly deceived. The actual impact is on thousands of movies made, and thousands of others never made. And television shows of every variety.
The military-industrial complex has had an influential presence in the production of Hollywood movies for decades. This relationship has been mutually beneficial, providing movie studios with financial backing, military equipment and supplies worth billions in exchange for creating military-friendly film content. The scripts are subject to approval by the US military or Pentagon.
Top Gun recycled – belligerent jingoism
American-advocated solutions, based on the deployment of violence epitomised by the latest military-grade hardware, is a common cinematic theme in modern Hollywood. Films churned out under the influence of the Pentagon are not works of art, but rather forms of propaganda intended to legitimise and glorify American militarism.
Hollywood recently released the highly anticipated, and long awaited sequel, to the 1986 film Top Gun. The new offering, Top Gun: Maverick, is basically a recycling of the original movie. A military recruitment advertisement masquerading as a film, Maverick solidified the superstar status of its main protagonist Tom Cruise.
The original Top Gun, made with the close collaboration of the US military, resulted in a huge increase in naval recruitments. However, there is another more insidious consequence of such propaganda; the portrayal of American military power as a benevolent force for good in the world. The audience is invited to marvel at the sophisticated technology, the smart bombs and massive warplanes, and sympathise with the ostensible suffering of the aviators and troops. The victims of American war crimes are nowhere to be seen.
Humanitarian American military intervention
The few antiwar movies that Hollywood has made, such Born on the Fourth of July starring Tom Cruise – deal with the American crisis of confidence after their defeat in Vietnam. Films of a pro war orientation have assisted in overcoming the ‘Vietnam syndrome’; popular opponent to American imperialist wars. Movies such as Top Gun are not unusual or exceptional in pushing a pro war message.
The movie Zero Dark Thirty, released in 2012, made a positive case for torture. It portrayed the capture of Osama Bin Laden as a result of information gained through torturing suspects. This movie was made with the direct supervision of the CIA. Even the US Senate, after a huge outcry against this favourable depiction of torture, was compelled to admit that the capture of Bin Laden was not a direct consequence of information obtained through waterboarding, but through old fashioned methodical police work.
Not long after the release of the original Top Gun movie, American air power demonstrated its barbaric ferocity in the first Gulf War (1990 – 91). American military aviators attacked Iraq’s infrastructure, destroying the electricity grid, hospitals, sewage systems and schools. The supposedly accurate and precision-guided smart bombs devastated the Al-Amiriyah air raid shelter, killing 400 Iraqi civilians. Iraqis commemorate the victims of this criminal bombing every year.
Such crimes reveal the true face of American military violence overseas, but yet in the Anglophone nations, the Hollywood war propaganda movies pervade the public consciousness. The long and subversive involvement of the US intelligence community in the internal political affairs of Iran remains obscured behind the commercially successful output of Hollywood – Argo, the 2012 movie, fills our collective void.
The United States was instrumental in overthrowing the democratically elected nationalist government of Iranian President Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. The US helped to prop up the savagely repressive Shah of Iran, and trained the Iranian secret police. Yet this historical context is forgotten as we are invited to cheer on CIA agent Ben Affleck in Argo, leading a rescue of American hostages in Tehran. What matters to Anglophone audiences is the suffering of Americans – the Iranians, and nonwhite people in general, are reduced to a hysterical, irrationally violent chaotic mass.
While propaganda in the so-called enemy nations may be crude and overtly political, propaganda in the capitalist nations – usually called public relations – is more technically sophisticated and insidious. As Joe Giambrone wrote, Hollywood presents a nonpolitical face to the world, but its messages are highly politicised. Let’s abandon the hyperpatriotic waffle, and critically examine the war propaganda that pervades our lives.